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[writing] So, I have this book, see…

Calamity of So Long a Life is teetering on the edge of being done. I’m reading it one last time for another line edit pass, and to get the story firmly in my head so I can start in on Sunspin volume two, Their Currents Turn Awry, sometime in the next few days.

Yesterday I got up early and walked an hour, leaving myself enough time to blog, perform my morning ablutions, eat, and work on the book for an hour before Day Jobbery.

Then at lunch I scampered back to my hotel room and worked on the book for an hour.

Then after work I scampered back to my hotel room and worked on the book for three and a half hours more.

Obsessive? Moi?

Plus the lovely and talented [info]lizzyshannon is doing an independent line read to catch all the stuff my eyes keep passing over.

So, arm, not so much with the blogging today because there was so much book yesterday. Not much book today, either, as I have a lunch meeting, the Omaha Beach Party tonight, and a need to go to bed early in order to get up for my 6 am flight home tomorrow. Still, I am almost done. Whee!

[personal|travel] In Omaha

I’m in Omaha for Day Jobbery. A nice dinner last night with [info]garyomaha and [info]elusivem. We talked about current writing projects and whatnot.

Speaking of current writing projects, I batted a lot of cleanup the past couple of days. A bunch of things went out the door, including short fiction submissions, materials for three book proposals, and some new Sekrit Projekt stuff. Kind of rocketing along here. I have a modest nonfiction request to deal with, then I’m back on Sunspin, probably tonight, starting with a re-read of Calamity of So Long a Life then hitting the draft of book two, Their Currents Turn Awry.

Also of note today is that I’ll be guest teaching a literature class at the University of Nebraska at Omaha on my lunch hour. I’m looking forward to that, should be a lot of fun.

[writing] The state of play, updated once more

After correspondence with my agent yesterday, I can update the state of play on various projects.

Sunspin (four volume space opera): She really likes the revisions to volume one, Calamity of So Long a Life. I need to produce a short marketing-focused synopsis, about ten pages covering all four books, and she has suggested one more line editing pass for dropped words, et cetera. I’m feeling a little glassy-eyed about doing another line edit on the manuscript, but I probably ought to re-read it anyway in preparation for drafting the balance of Their Currents Turn Awry, which is my project for April and May. I only need another 100,000 or so words on that project to call it done in first draft, so it will fit nicely into that schedule. I expect to produce the synopsis over the next few days, and will come to grips with the line editing issue shortly thereafter.

Going to Extremes (nonfiction book about cancer, parenting and Antarctica): She is still reviewing the proposal, but likes it so far. We’re having a somewhat technical conversation now about cross-licensing and subrights and other nonfiction issues which are new territory to me. I won’t be doing any more new writing on this until she has given me full feedback on the proposal and we agree on what more we need to do for the submission package. I do feel some time pressure on this one, simply because of the timing of being able to make an Antarctic trip.

Little Dog (urban fantasy about a werewolf with achondroplastic dwarfism): Once [info]bravado111 and I wrap up the synopsis, which ought to be fairly soon, she will review it, as will his agent. At that point we’ll decide whether it makes more sense to go to market as a proposal, a partial or a full. Collaborator [info]bravado111 and I will be discussing the writing schedule today, actually, and working out between the two of us how to approach that question from our end.

Our Lady of the Islands (independent novel set in the Green universe): She wants to review this one more time, possibly have another revision round, then go to market, but not in the same immediate time as Sunspin. Since Calamity of So Long a Life will probably be going out in the next few weeks if not sooner, this means Our Lady can go out later this spring. Collaborator [info]calendula_witch and I are in agreement on this plan.

Short Fiction: I have now completed all requested short fiction due before the end of the summer. I need to send “The Cancer Catechism” into the requesting market, and later on in the year I have to write a Fathomless Abyss novella and a Cthulhu short. I have tentatively agreed to take on a couple of anthology invitations in June, when I have another month of Doing Miscellaneous Stuff on my writing calendar, but I don’t have guidelines for those yet. If you’re an editor and you’re expecting something from me that you suspect I’ve missed, please let me know.

Cancer: Of course, all of this is subject to change should next month’s re-tests show that my recently detected liver lesion is in fact a fourth round of cancer. I expect Sunspin to go forward mostly unaffected. Likewise Our Lady of the Islands. [info]bravado111 and I need to discuss a fallback plan for Little Dog if I get seriously sidelined, so status unknown there. Ironically, it’s Going to Extremes, the big, ambitious cancer book, that will likely be the most disrupted from a return of the cancer, simply because of timing. If I spend the second half of this year going through another round of chemo, there’s no way on God’s green Earth I’ll be fit to go to Antarctica during the southern summer of 2012/2013. Also, my short fiction and miscellaneous project work will fall off the table complete if cancer returns, as will most or all of my already limited convention and conference schedule.

A lot going on, and I like being this kind of busy. I just hate the uncertainty.

[process] Sequel-itis, or the part 2 blues…

Yesterday afternoon, [info]the_child‘s basketball team lost their first round playoff game. It was heart-breakingly close, a very good game, but in the end, the other team pulled it out to beat them by three points. After dinner with friends, we stayed up late (and tired!) and watched Kung Fu Panda 2imdb ], which we’d rented over the weekend and is due back Real Soon Now. Meanwhile, I’m thinking ahead to the second book of Sunspin, Their Currents Turn Awry.

All of these things are essential part two of something else. The playoffs were a coda to her season. Kung Fu Panda 2 follows on the success of the first movie. Currents, well, we shall see.

It’s hard to do something twice. I learned this writing both of the Mainspring and Green trilogies. The demands of the sequel/part 2 are very different. The challenge for the creator is how to maintain and build on whatever magic the original had, while still doing something new and interesting. So I worry a bit about Their Currents Turn Awry and the final two books in Sunspin. Once a reader has encountered Calamity of So Long a Life, their expectations are set. They have a view of the world that I have to both satisfy and expand upon.

Luckily for me, while very, very few movie sequels live up to their original (off the top of my head, the Toy Storyimdb ] cycle is the only movie series that truly pulled this off), there are plenty of sfnal and fantasy examples of successful series and trilogies. Writing is not the playoffs, and we’re not worried about box office take. Not exactly, at any rate.

Still, there’s nothing like a story the first time out of the wrapper, when you’re experiencing it like never before. How to keep that magic going…?

[writing] The state of play

So a bit of writing updatery. This is for my benefit as well as for your information.

Calamity of So Long a Life is nearly done. I may be through the revisions today, having about half a dozen revision notes left, plus a couple of word hunts to do. There are two exceptions to this hoped-for state of done-ness.

One, a common thread in my last-first reader feedback arises from people having a bit of trouble about what are essentially deep structural choices in the book. This decomposes into two issues. First, the narrative is structured thriller style, with multiple separated plot threads featuring characters who are ultimately going to converge on a common conflict point, but because this is a multivolume story, they don’t all do their converging in Calamity. That has left some readers feeling a bit confused about how character A relates to, say, character D. Second, because of the multivolume nature of the project, the various plot threads don’t all come to neat resolution. I don’t really know how to address the questions being raised without seriously altering the structure, which would compromise my vision of the books. Instead I’ve done my best to tweak the narratives. It feels a bit like putting a band-aid on a broken bone, given that some surface polish doesn’t really change the structural issues.

Second, I am still wrestling with the whole reading aloud question (as recently discussed here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]). Per a commentor’s suggestion, I’ve downloaded an application called GhostReader, which I tested with some good effect on my draft of “The Woman Who Shattered the Moon.” I have another ten days before my (self-imposed) deadline to have this manuscript into la agente, which is probably enough time to run the whole thing through the text-to-speech app and listen to it. I’m just having to speak sharply to myself to convince me that this is going to be a worthwhile use of another week and a half of my precious writing time.

Once Calamity is turned in, I’ll spend the balance of my time through the end of March working on several other projects. These include a book synopsis for Little Dog with J.A. Pitts (urban fantasy about a Portland werewolf with achondroplastic dwarfism), as well book proposals for the Antarctica project (nonfiction about going to extremes with cancer) and a possible collection of my flash fiction.

On the short fiction front, I have three requested stories to write, though two of them aren’t due until much later in the year. One is a religious themed piece, one is another Cthulhu pastiche, and the last is a novella for the Fathomless Abyss project.

Come April, I’ll dive back into Sunspin, where I’ll need to write about 100,000 words of first draft to round out book two, Their Currents Turn Awry. I’ve budgeted April and May for that, though it will probably not take me two months. Plus at some point copy edits for Kalimpura will turn up, as well as page proofs for the Endurance paperback release, and I’m sure other miscellaneous items as well.

My writing year beyond May is unclear, because with the new cancer information, the odds that I’ll be going back into treatment in late May or early June are pretty high. That means another six months or so of productivity lost to surgery and chemo. As I did in 2011, I structured my 2012 goals as a forked path — the healthy goals and the cancer goals — and I’ll still meet my cancer goals regardless of what happens.

[writing] Sunspin progris riport

Yesterday I finished the first revision pass on Sunspin, specifically Calamity of So Long a Life, the first of the three four volumes that make up the arc. This pass consisted of embedding all my various first reader comments, doing a close line read for typos and textual infelicities, and processing those comments that don’t require Deep Thought to address. I wound up deleting about a dozen scenes, and making notes for a number of additional significant revisions.

In today’s work session, I’ll make a new version of the file and accept all my changes. (I work in Microsoft Word with the ‘track changes’ feature turned on, specifically so I can backtrack as needed.) I’ll also combine the two separate .docx files that are part I and part II of the book into a single .docx, this to facilitate search-and-replace operations as well as moving back and forth around the body of the book. These are purely technical issues that I need to address before getting serious about the second revision pass.

One of the purposes of that close line read is to load the book back into my head. This way, when I have a note on page 532 that says something like, “Did Mist know this earlier?”, I have a pretty good notion of where the earlier scenes are that Mist might (or might not) have been in on that particular revelation. This sense of having the shape and details of the book in my head, within my span of control, is critical to the second and later passes. (For more on “span of control”, see here and here.)

The second revision pass will be to address scene level and structural issues, which is what the majority of the embedded comments are concerned with. My agent made a suggestion that will greatly improve the dramatic tension of the book, but requires serious adjustment to a major plot thread and a fair number of minor clean-ups elsewhere. This will probably not take me too many elapsed work days, as in revisions I am a very conservative tweaker rather than a tear-down-and-rebuild kind of writer. I trust Fred, my writing mind, and I strive not to damage or blunt the voice that is always strongest in my first drafts and only ever minimized by too much revision or polishing.

After that, I’ll go back through again, most likely focusing on character issues in the third revision pass. I’ll also somewhere in here decide if a fourth revision pass is necessary or not.

Note that none of these revision passes are surgically clean. Even though the second pass is about scene and structure, I’ll be noodling character issues while I’m in there. And vice-versa for the third pass. The process is rather more organic than I’m making it sound here. But in a high level sense, this description is accurate.

I am also pleased to report that I seem to be somewhat ahead of my own production schedule. This monster, which will ring in at about 135,000 to 140,000 words for Calamity of So Long a Life, may be in to my agent a week or two early. I’ll spend March working on short fiction and letting my brain settle, then in April it’s on to volume two, Their Currents Turn Awry, of which the first 70,000 words already exist in draft.

I love this stuff.

[writing|cancer] 2012 and further goals, more thereupon

As I said on New Year’s Eve [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ] regarding my 2012 writing goals:

For 2012, if I can stay out of the oncology unit, I plan to write the other 400,000 words of Sunspin, revise the first two volumes for submittal and publication, and write several requested novellas and short stories. […] Even if I do go back into cancer treatment, experience shows I can still be reasonably productive. If I metastasize yet again, I still plan to write another 100,000 words of Sunspin, as well as revise the first two volumes and write the requested short fiction.

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. If my health permits, I’ll finish the first draft of the entire Sunspin cycle. By way of official news regarding that project, my agent and I have redivided it from three books to four for reasons of length. The titles now are:

Calamity of So Long a Life
Their Currents Turn Awry
The Whips and Scorns of Time
Be All Our Sins Remembered

Their Currents Turn Awry is the new title, and is now book two between the previously announced titles Calamity of So Long a Life and The Whips and Scorns of Time.

Also in Sunspin news, Subterranean Online will this year be publishing my novella “The Weight of History, the Lightness of the Future”, which is essentially chapter zero of Calamity of So Long a Life. So if you’re interested in this project, watch for that.

My more detailed 2012 plan for writing is as follows:

January and February, 2012 — Revise Calamity of So Long a Life for submission and publication, with a March 1 delivery date to my agent, and going to market shortly thereafter.
March, 2012 — Take a break from Sunspin, pursue short fiction commitments.
April and May, 2012 — Write another 100,000 words of Sunspin, edit into first draft manuscript of Their Currents Turn Awry.
June, 2012 — Initial revisions to Their Currents Turn Awry, release to my first readers.
July, 2012 — Take a break from Sunspin, pursue short fiction commitments.
August, September and October, 2012 — Write another 300,000 words of Sunspin, edit into first draft manuscripts of The Whips and Scorns of Time and Be All Our Sins Remembered.
November, 2012 — Take a break from Sunspin, pursue short fiction commitments.
December, 2012 — Revise Their Currents Turn Awry for submission and publication, with a December 31 delivery date to my agent.

That will put revisions and submittal for The Whips and Scorns of Time and Be All Our Sins Remembered in early 2013, and then I’ll be done with the cycle and free to move on to other projects.

The huge open question is whether I go back into treatment this year. The gap between conclusion of my last chemotherapy sequence and the detection of the next metastasis was nine months. If I can squeeze out a year, all of the above will happen. Even if the worst happens and we find a new metastasis in February, at my next scan, I’ll still get the work through March done for certain, and probably manage the work planned through June, though it may take me several months longer to reach those goals, if I have to take time off for surgery or whatever. So at a minimum, I’ll get Calamity of So Long a Life out and Their Currents Turn Awry written and revised, even if illness forces me to push drafting The Whips and Scorns of Time and Be All Our Sins Remembered into 2013.

In a larger sense, I figure these days I’m about one to two years from dying at any given point depending on my next diagnosis. More swiftly, of course, of the cancer comes back in an inoperable location or otherwise excessively troublesome. So when I look down the road, at other projects such as Original Destiny, Manifest Sin, it’s with a less confident eye than I used to have. I figure my long-term goals beyond Sunspin aren’t so much goals as hopes. Here are the benchmarks, things I’m looking forward to living to see if I can manage it.

December, 2012 — The Hobbit part one released
December, 2013 — The Hobbit part two released
June, 2016 — [info]the_child graduates from high school

If I make it alive and in some form of health to June, 2016, I will have won. That much time grants me my daughter’s entrance into adulthood, and lets me see her start her own life. That much time grants me as many as five or six more books, at a minimum four more even if I spend much of the intervening years in treatment. And it lets me go back to Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth twice more.

And, well, if I don’t make it that far, I’ll spend as much time as I can with [info]the_child and write as many books as I can.

Thinking about it in those terms both focuses and trivializes my 2012 goals. Perhaps you can see how my thinking is bent as time passes. But this is the life I’m leading, and I’ll do the best I can.